NASA’s Polar Robotic Ranger passes first Greenland test
09 July 2013
Defying 30mph gusts and temperatures down to -30 deg C, NASA’s new polar rover recently demonstrated that it could operate completely autonomously.
The robot known as GROVER (Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research), was designed by teams of students attending engineering boot camps at Goddard in the summers of 2010 and 2011. Built to carry a ground-penetrating radar to analyse layers of snow and ice, the rover was later transferred to Boise State University for fine-tuning with NASA funding.
Although researchers had tested GROVER at a beach in Maryland and in the snow in Idaho, the May 6 to June 8 testing at Summit Camp, the highest spot in Greenland, was the rover’s first polar experience. One of the main goals was proving that the robot could execute commands sent from afar over an Iridium satellite connection – an objective GROVER accomplished.
GROVER collected and stored radar data over 18 miles during the five weeks it spent on the ice. During the testing, the rover was also able to transmit information in real time on how its on-board systems were performing. The robot’s solar-charged batteries allowed it to operate for up to 12 hours before having to recharge.
Though currently the radar information is stored on-board and retrieved afterwards, the GROVER team wants to switch to a geostationary satellite connection that will let the robot transmit large volumes of data in real time.
Other possible changes include replacing components that are hard to manipulate in the cold (like switches and wires), merging the two on-board computers to reduce energy consumption, and using wind generators to create more power or adding a sled carrying additional solar panels.